Back from Lebanon, a Davao OFWs Nightmare

May. 23, 2006

Contributed photoJudith Solis couldnt wait to abandon her abusive Lebanese employer. When she finally arrived home in Davao City, she had been incapacitated after an alleged suicide attempt. But Judiths family suspects something more sinister.

By Jeffrey B. Javier

DAVAO CITY — Last Feb. 14, 2006, when Jemar Solis was called by his wifes employer, he got the shock of his life. The employer called to tell him that his wife needed $700 to be sent to Lebanon. Not knowing what the $700 was for, Jemar called his wifes recruitment agency. The Golden Future Agency, based in Manila, told him that his wife, Judith, had a slight accident on Valentines Day and was being treated in a hospital.

Four days later, on Feb. 18, the Overseas Workers Welfare Agency (OWWA) called to tell Jemar that Judith was in a critical condition. At that moment, she was being operated on; her pelvic and thigh bones had been crushed. According to the police report he received via e-mail, Judith attempted suicide. Jemar knew right then something was not right.

Judith, 32, had been in Lebanon for only eight months; she arrived there in April last year to work as a domestic helper. Between November and December, she regularly called Jemar to complain about her working condition. She would tell him that her life was in great danger. She was determined to go home, she told him.

Judith didnt quite make herself clear about her tribulation but she once mentioned to Jemar that her employer was threatening to kill her.

According to Jemar, Judiths employer, a woman named Diana Ghossoub, let her do all the work in her apartment — cooking, washing and ironing cloths, cleaning the whole residence including bedrooms, a bathroom and a huge ballroom. Aside from working for Mrs. Ghossoub full time, Judith was also sent every day to work, unpaid, for her employers mother-in-law. It was a very exhausting situation for her, Jemar said.

Judith's husband Jemar and their sonThe salary of an overseas Filipino worker (OFW), especially in Lebanon, may vary depending on the wills and likes of the employer. According to Norie Elento of the Center for Overseas Workers, a nongovernment agency that caters to the needs of OFWs in Davao, if an OFW will sign a contract indicating a wage of $200 a month, the only money that he/she might get is only $150 a month or less.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) is not blind to this, Elento said. Theyve been getting many complaints from OFWs about this but there was little the POEA could do. It is better for the agency and the employer to state $150 or whatever amount they intend to pay the OFW, rather than fool them into thinking theyd be getting $200, Elento commented.

Adding to Judiths grievances, the customs of Lebanon did not suit her circumstance so well. The Lebanese only eat twice a day and are not very fond of taking daily baths. This took her to levels of culture shock that she couldnt quite adapt very quickly, according to Jemar.

Thus, every day, Judiths determination to go home strengthened, he said. It was while she was preparing to go home, intent on not finishing her contract, that the alleged accident occurred.

According to the police report, Judith jumped, through the kitchen window, from the third floor of the apartment building that she worked for. Her lower limbs struck the pavement first; she broke her pelvis and thigh bones.

Judith was rushed to the hospital by her friend, also a Filipino OFW, who worked in the same neighborhood. She stayed at the hospital for two months before finally allowed to go home.

Judith's injured thighWhat was suspicious about the police report, Jemar said, is that it was based on the accounts of the employer. The report does not state the whereabouts of the employer when the supposed accident occurred.

Judith arrived in Davao last April 28. She was immediately rushed to the Davao Medical Center for an additional operation because the metal plates that had been placed to align her bones were dislocated. Either they were not properly put by the surgeons abroad or were dislocated during the trip, Jemar said.

The OWWA, meanwhile, denied the request for benefits by Judiths family. The OWWA omnibus code states that an OFW can only acquire an insurance benefit if he or she was totally disabled. What the family wanted was a partial disability insurance, which the OWWA doesnt grant. The police report that suggests her attempt to commit suicide was also a factor in the denial of benefits.

According to Elento, of the Center for Overseas Workers, the OWWA is more likely to extend burial benefits than disability benefits because total disability benefits can reach up to 100,000 pesos while burial benefits is only around 30,000 pesos.

The OWWA also insisted that it had done enough for Judith, citing the almost 500,000 pesos that they said they spent on Judiths medical expenses and transportation from Lebanon.

Jemar, however, is unconvinced: the receipts that were supposed to declare how much the OWWA spent on his wife were not even presented to him when he requested these.

With the help of the Center for Overseas Workers, Judiths family facilitated the needs of Judith. So far the only government help the Solis family got was from the Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte who shouldered most of the medical expenses at the Davao Medical Center. She was released last week from the hospital and is now recuperating at home.

Judith Soliss fate is not unique. Almost four months ago, another domestic helper named Maria Corazon Carido, who also worked in Lebanon, came home to Davao with an injury that she got from escaping her employer. When she returned to the Philippines, her request for a disability insurance was also denied by the OWWA. City Hall ended up shouldering her medical expenses as well.

The city government now recognizes the need for intervention for OFWs in need. The City Council, for example, is working on an ordinance that will help establish a center for overseas workers. If this center is built, Davao City will be the first local government to cater to the needs and welfare of its OFWs. (Jeffrey B. Javier/

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